Experts prepare plan to capture ill orca as last alternative

Federal biologists said today they are preparing a plan to capture and treat a sick, critically endangered orca if there is no other way to save her in the wild.

Officials said they will intervene and rescue the orca only if she becomes stranded or separated from the rest of her tightly knit group of whales.

They want the 4-year-old orca known as J50 to survive in the wild and contribute to the recovery of southern resident killer whales, without putting the rest of the orcas in her pod at risk.

"We don't intend to intervene while she's with her family. If we are presented with a situation where a rescue is the only viable alternative, we will rescue her," Chris Yates, assistant regional administrator for NOAA's protected resources division, told reporters during a call.

Veterinarians believe they have exhausted treatment options in the field that included twice injecting the free-swimming whale with antibiotics in Pacific Northwest waters. Despite the treatment, J50 is thinner than ever due to undetermined health issues.

"This is a very sick whale," said Joe Gaydos, a wildlife veterinarian and science director of SeaDoc Society. "We don't think she has long."

Another whale in the same pod, known as J35, triggered international sympathy this summer when she kept the body of her dead calf afloat in waters for more than two weeks.

The two whales are among just 75 of the fish-eating orcas that spend time in Pacific Northwest waters.

The southern resident killer whales don't have enough chinook salmon, the staple of their diet. They also face threats from toxic contamination as well as vessel noise and disturbances that disrupt their ability to communicate and forage.

There hasn't been a successful birth in the population since 2015. Losing J50 would also mean losing her reproductive potential.

NOAA Fisheries said the next steps could include doing a hands-on physical exam, which could lead to quick medical treatment and release. Another option at that point would be holding her in a marine net pen in Puget Sound for a short time for rehabilitation and medical care before returning her to the wild to reunite with her family.

J50 has lagged behind her group in the ocean, at times trailing for miles, raising questions about what criteria would be used to determine if she has separated enough for scientists to attempt capture.

Yates said J50 would have to show more extreme behavior than what she has exhibited so far, and scientists will act if they don't believe she'll reconnect with her pod.

An international team of Canadian and U.S. whale experts has mounted an intensive effort to help the orca since concerns were raised in mid-July.

They have taken breath and fecal samples but still don't know for certain what's wrong with J50.

Response teams have tried to give her medication to help with parasitic worms, which they believe she has based on fecal samples taken from her mother.

Teams have also dropped l live salmon from a boat as J50 and her pod swam behind — a test to see whether fish could be used as a means of delivering medication.

Drone images taken Monday showed J50 much thinner than she was last year. Her mother, J16, has also declined in the past month, perhaps because of the burden of helping catch and share food with J50, experts said.

"We don't want to take her from her mom where we have a J35 situation," Gaydos said. "These are very hard questions to answer and I think that right now the good thing is we're talking about all the options."

NOAA Fisheries announced two meetings in Washington state this weekend — in Friday Harbor and Seattle — to get public input.

What to do to help J50 has generated intense emotional reactions on social media and other forums. Some have pleaded with federal officials to do everything they can to save her, including feeding her or capturing her. Others worry that more intervention would stress her and her family members. They think that nature should be allowed to run its course.

"We would love J50 to survive," said Susan Berta, co-founder of the Orca Network, an advocacy group. "At what point are we doing more harm than good?"

Orca (file image)
Orca (file image) Source: 1 NEWS



Recall after needles found in strawberries purchased in three Australian states

Consumers are being urged to throw out strawberries purchased over the past week in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria after needles were found inside the fruit.

Health officials and police on Wednesday said sewing needles were hidden in at least three punnets of strawberries supplied to Woolworths from a southeast Queensland farm.

Those strawberries were bought in Queensland and Victoria, but it is unclear if the brands involved, Berry Obsession and Berry Liscious, are supplied to other retailers.

"I'm out here today to advise people if they've brought any strawberries in Queensland, NSW or Victoria since early last week, that they should dispose of them," Queensland Health's chief health officer Jeanette Young said.

"If someone were to swallow a sewing needle it could get caught up in their gut."

Police launched an investigation on Sunday after a Queensland man reported swallowing a contaminated berry.

"I found a needle, bit into it by accident and it snapped in half - or what felt like it snapped in half - and my knee jerk reaction was to swallow," the man told 7 News.

"I found the other half of the needle in the strawberry. I was in complete shock."

Two people in Victoria have since come forward after similar experiences.

Acting Chief Superintendent Terry Lawrence would not say at what point in the supply chain police believe the needles were planted.

He declined to name the farm involved but said investigators had been in contact with its operator and Woolworths representatives.
"It's been some time for us to look at this sort of investigation, quite some time," he said.

Woolworths removed strawberries from its shelves on Wednesday and consumers can be confident in purchasing them from today onwards, Dr Young added.



South Korea to make inquiries with North about potential joint bid to host Olympics in 2032

South Korea will enquire with the North over a potential joint bid for the 2032 Olympics, Seoul’s sports minister Do Jong-hwan said yesterday.

Do is meeting his Japanese and Chinese counterparts in Japan where he made the comments to media, according to Yonhap News.

He was also keen to build on the idea of a Northeast Asian bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

Do said co-hosting a Summer Olympics would build on this year's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which North Korea competed in to help ease tensions.

"It's a proposal of hosting the events in Seoul and Pyongyang," Do said.

"The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics showed the Olympic values very well," he said. "I hope peace in Northeast Asia can continue through sports."

"We heard that China is going to make a bid to host the (2030) World Cup," he said. "But we want to make a proposal of co-hosting the event with Asian neighbours like North Korea, China and Japan."

"In this way, we can maintain the current atmosphere of peace and can connect Northeast Asia peace with peace on the Korean Peninsula."

Any bid for the 2030 World Cup would go against a joint South American bid involving Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Northeast Asia has a history of hosting big events, with Seoul hosting the 1988 Olympics while th 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing and the 2020 Olympic to be held in Tokyo.

Japan and South Korea also co-hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002.

South Korean President Moon Jae In (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take part in a pine tree planting ceremony in the border village of Panmunjeom on April 27, 2018. (Korea Summit Press Pool) (Kyodo)
==Kyodo
(Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) and South Korean President Moon Jae In took part in an historic meeting in April. Source: Getty


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US boy lands on meat skewer that penetrated his skull from face to the back of his head

A 10-year-old Missouri boy is recovering after he was attacked by insects and tumbled from a tree, landing on a meat skewer that penetrated his skull from his face to the back of his head.

But miraculously, that's where Xavier Cunningham's bad luck ended. The skewer had completely missed Xavier's eye, brain, spinal cord and major blood vessels, The Kansas City Star reports.

Xavier's harrowing experience began Saturday afternoon when yellow jackets attacked him in a tree house at his home in Harrisonville, about 56 kilometres south of Kansas City. He fell to the ground and started to scream. His mother, Gabrielle Miller, ran to help him. His skull was pierced from front-to-back with half a foot of skewer still sticking out of his face.

Miller tried to reassure her son, who told her "I'm dying, Mom" as they rushed to the hospital. He eventually was transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital, where endovascular neurosurgery director Koji Ebersole evaluated the wound.

"You couldn't draw it up any better," Ebersole said. "It was one in a million for it to pass 5 or 6 inches through the front of the face to the back and not have hit these things."

There was no active bleeding, allowing the hospital time to get personnel in place for a removal surgery on Sunday morning that was complicated by the fact that the skewer wasn't round. Because it was square, with sharp edges, it would have to come out perfectly straight. Twisting it could cause additional severe injury.

"Miraculous" would be an appropriate word to describe what happened, Ebersole said.

Doctors think Xavier could recover completely.

"I have not seen anything passed to that depth in a situation that was survivable, let alone one where we think the recovery will be near complete if not complete," he said.

Doctors say it was a miracle the boy survived. Source: Medical News Network


Suspects in Britain poisoning are innocent civilians, President Putin claims

President Vladimir Putin said overnight that Russian authorities know the identities of the two men accused by Britain of carrying out a nerve agent attack on a former spy, but he added that they are civilians and there is "nothing criminal" about them.

The statement by Putin marked an abrupt shift from Russia's earlier position on the poisoning case that has damaged relations between Moscow and the West. Initially, Russian officials said they had no idea who the men were and questioned the authenticity of some of security-camera photos and video released by Scotland Yard showing them in London and Salisbury, where the poisoning took place.

Britain last week charged two men in absentia, identifying them as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Authorities alleged they were agents of Russia's military intelligence agency known as the GRU and accused them of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4.

Britain blamed the Russian government for the attack, an allegation that Moscow has vehemently denied.

Putin did not try to dispute the British evidence, but he insisted the men were innocent.

"We know who these people are, we have found them," Putin said in response to question at panel for an economic conference in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East. "There is nothing special or criminal about it, I can assure you."

Asked by the panel's moderator if the men work for the military, Putin replied that they are "civilians" and called on the men to come forward and speak to the media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters that Putin never met the suspects in the poisoning and that Russia did not investigate them but merely "checked the reports."

The Skripals' poisoning by the deadly nerve agent Novichok triggered a tense diplomatic showdown. Britain and more than two dozen other countries expelled a total of 150 Russian diplomats, and Russia kicked out a similar number of those countries' envoys.

The attack left the Skripals hospitalized for weeks, and two other area residents became seriously ill months later. One of them, a 44-year-old woman, later died.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was carried out by officers of the GRU and almost certainly approved "at a senior level of the Russian state."

Her spokesman, James Slack, rejected the claim the men were civilians, saying they were GRU officers "who used a devastatingly toxic illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country."

"We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March and they have replied with obfuscation and lies," Slack said. "I have seen nothing to suggest that has changed."

Putin's abrupt shift from earlier official statements on the case fits a pattern by the Russian leader.

When troops in uniforms without insignia first appeared on the streets of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 prior to its annexation, Putin insisted that they were not members of the Russian military, but merely local volunteers. Weeks later, Putin said there were Russian troops present there under a treaty with Ukraine that allowed Russia to leave a naval base in Crimea.

Similarly, Putin initially dismissed accusations of Russian state-sponsored hacking in the U.S. election system, but he later admitted the possibility that it was the work of some "patriotic-minded" Russians, although he denied that any of them had been directed by the Kremlin.

Ever since British authorities made their initial accusations of Russian government involvement in the poisoning, Russian officials and media sought to discredit them, either deriding their statements or offering alternative explanations.

After British authorities released photos and video of the men, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that two of the photos in a London airport had been doctored. She later walked back that statement, expressing frustration that British authorities had not shared the files with their Russian counterparts, leaving Moscow "guessing" about what really happened in Salisbury.

Moscow also questioned the origins of the nerve agent involved in the attack, saying it was not proven that the substance was developed by Russia and arguing that other countries, including Britain, had the capacity. Although Novichok is said to be extremely lethal, the Skripals survived, and Russian authorities even questioned why British officials put down the Skripals' pets.

When charges were brought against Petrov and Boshirov last week, Russian media reports appeared to tacitly accept that they were Russians but rejected the possibility that they were sent by the GRU, saying the operation was too clumsy to have been done by well-trained agents. That argument centered on how they made themselves overly visible to surveillance by taking the train to Salisbury and walking through the city, rather than going by private car.

"There have never been and never will be such stupid people in Russian intelligence," journalist Nikolai Dolgopolov, who has written widely about spies, said on Vesti Nedeli.

Skripal's niece Viktoria, who lives in Russia and often voices pro-Kremlin arguments on Russian television talk shows, told the Interfax news agency Wednesday that she knows "through her own sources" that the men identified as Petrov and Boshirov are "ordinary men" who are "shocked" by the accusations.

She claimed that Petrov was not in Britain around the time of the poisoning but did not elaborate on how she knew that.

The case, with its chilling details, echoes the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent who died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 at a London hotel. Britain spent years trying in vain to prosecute the prime suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.

A British inquiry concluded that Litvinenko had been killed at the behest of the Russian state, probably with the president's knowledge.
The Russian government rejected the accusations and was quick to throw its support behind the men. Lugovoi ended up in the Kremlin-friendly Liberal Democrat Party and since 2011 has been a member of the lower house of parliament, enjoying immunity from any prosecution.

Russia’s President says the a pair accused of poisoning a spy who defected to the UK are civilians. Source: BBC